The Home Minister has been disbursing taxes collected on betting in the Mahalaxmi Racecourse to phony trusts and ‘charity’ bodies that have been fudging records to claim the donations; almost all of these organisations are either promoted by, or have a direct affiliation to, his party, NCP.
Charity begins at home for Home Minister R R Patil – literally. In a clear case of abuse of discretionary powers vested in him, Patil has been callously disbursing tax collected on horse racing in Mumbai to phoney public trusts and charity organisations with dubious grassroots credentials.
mid-day investigations establish that tax collected on wagering in horse racing at the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) or Mahalaxmi Racecourse is being frittered away on charity organisations that have been fudging records to claim the donations, by putting together a team of bogus trust members, faulty audit reports, and half-baked utilisation certificates showing the money is used for social purposes, none of which are ever vetted by a lethargic state home department — because the annual list of grants is directly approved by the home minister himself.
With no system in place to check how the money is being used, the fly-by-night bodies are squandering the ‘racecourse nidhi (fund)’ for personal and political gains, rather than on social causes that they were ostensibly meant for — like training unemployed youth, teaching skills to women, educating poor children, and giving pension to the elderly in rural Maharashtra.
Our investigations establish that almost all of these organisations, which received funds from the home department in the past three years, are either promoted or have a direct affiliation to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), as year after year, Patil supported charities with a clear intention of building a cadre base for his party in western Maharashtra and areas of Marathwada.
A handful of trusts recommended by the Shiv Sena politicians were considered for grants in this period. In stark contrast, scores of trusts in the name of Patil himself, his mother Bhagirathi, senior leaders such as Ajit Pawar, and those managed by senior NCP leaders received chunks of the funds.
The government rules do not allow repetition of grant to a trust within a period of three years. But, many NCP-affiliated trusts have been beneficiaries in consecutive years in the past three years. In Sangli, Patil’s hometown, as many as 11 trusts of the 140 that got grants last year were repeated.
Of the 217 proposals submitted by trusts in 2013, about 174 — nearly 80 per cent — were endorsed in writing by NCP ministers, MLAs, district presidents, secretaries and panchayat members. These, when forwarded to Patil, were approved with alarming alacrity. About 30 were from INC, remaining 11 were from Independent and RPI members; only two from Shiv Sena.
mid-day’s investigations show that party leaders at the district level have created a nexus: they endorse proposals from these trusts and in return pocket a neat 10 per cent of the grant amount as ‘commission’. This has spawned a mini-industry of party members and racketeers who simply draw up proposals every year and submit it to the home ministry in the hope that money would come through in the name of charity. When officials find flaws in the proposal, Patil himself overrides their discretion. For example, a trust wanted R2,00,000 to buy an ambulance, but was turned away by senior officials who sensed something fishy. “But, the home minister himself overruled objections raised by an undersecretary twice. The disagreement eventually reached the additional chief secretary (home), who was forced to toe the minister’s line,” said a senior official.
The Maharashtra government collects in revenue nearly R40 crore in taxes on wagering in horse races, including rent, property tax and licence fee from the RWITC. Annually, a chunk of this around R1-2 crore, is left at the discretion of Patil to be distributed to charitable organisations desirable of bringing about social change across rural Maharashtra.
The amounts range from R50,000 to R1.5 lakh.
Home sweet home
At the Kavathemhankal village in Sangli district, Dwitambar Bapusondade’s voice resonates in his dimly lit hut, unmindful of the patter of the raindrops on his roof. Bapusondade is the leader of a local tamasha troupe, which travels to villages and sings folk songs that glorify — R R Patil. Bapusondade is excited about his latest composition, which is set to debut on August 16, his hero’s birthday: “Patil R R Bijli Cha Avatar, Bhashanala Dhar — Jasi Bhawani Talwar.” (R R Patil is the incarnation of lightning, his speech is as sharp as Goddess Bhawani’s sword)
While one cannot discount the stupendous work done by tamasha troupes in propagating social messages, this is a dubious facet that goes along with it.
For the past two years, Bapusondade’s troupe has received a grant of R1,50,000 from the tax corpus collected on horse racing at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Racecourse. The money, sanctioned for the Kai Bapu Dagdu Loknatya Sanstha, was to be used for purchasing musical instruments and propagating social issues through traditional folk songs. But, neither of the two purposes was ever met. The troupe did buy the instruments, but submitted fudged bills to a private auditor — who endorsed it without any checks. They showed actual expenses of R1,51,105, but when we obtained the bills from auditor Bhosale Wangikar & Parannawar, the cost of instruments were found inflated by as much as 53 per cent. Of the seven instruments the troupe has shown as costing R72,000, dealers said they could be obtained for R45,000.
“I know half of these trusts who are obtaining audit reports from me for the racecourse nidhi are not genuine; they rely on bogus bills, fudged records. But, there is little I can do because of their political connections, even as my heart aches in avoiding a physical verification in these cases. I have to give financial endorsements to all of them for a meagre R300,” confessed Shriniwas Bhosle, at his office on Miraj-Sangli Road.
Due to dry spells and other impediments in this agriculture-driven village, Bapusondade and troupe work only for four months in a year. The remaining days are spent in promoting the ‘good work’ done by R R Patil in the villages of Shirdhone. “I am his (Patil’s) devoted follower and party worker, and through our tamasha, promote his policies and work during his birthdays, and months leading to the elections,” he told mid-day.
A few kilometres away in Agalgaon, where Patil’s mother Bhagirathi lived her initial life, a school in her name, run by his cousin Maruti, has received a racecourse grant worth R50,000 that was disbursed to the Loknete R R Patil Bahudeshiya Sevabhavi Sansthan on May 23, 2014. Its president is Shamrao Jadhav, an active youth leader of NCP and a close confidant of Patil. Two months after receiving the amount, Jadhav forgot the poor and socially backward for whom the money was meant. “He has been Patilsaheb’s shadow for so long and got nothing. Now he has bought land adjoining our house with this money,” his mother Kalawati confessed to us.
Can’t ‘trust’ them
While rules make it mandatory for trusts to submit a utilisation certificate in a month’s time to the government (to prove that the money was spent for the intended cause), Jadhav is waiting for August 16. “I may eventually use it for promoting Aaba’s (Patil) work on August 16, his birthday,” he said. In his proposal submitted to the government on February 7, Jadhav had requested the racecourse funds to “organise training programmes for the poor, backward castes, and unemployed youth in the village.” They are still awaiting these sessions.
Several NCP members and close associates of Patil in Agalgaon, Desingh, Yogewadi, Tasgaon, run public trusts that seemingly exist as Patil’s PR bodies — promoting his ideologies. “It is important to take his ideas, important decisions such as dance bar and gutka bans, vyasan mukti to his supporters here in his pocket borough. We regularly chat with him to decide the future course on how his philosophy can be promoted through our trusts,” said Yashwant Balasaheb, the president of Nalanda Magasvargiya Sansthan, which received R1.5 lakh in 2012. Balasaheb’s name features again this year on the grant list. “Most of the previous funds were used in organising events staged to promote Aaba’s philosophy,” he told mid-day.
Amidst all this, the local charity commissioner’s office paints a sorry picture, saying no audits of these bodies have been carried out in a decade. The office refused to furnish details to this paper, despite an RTI application seeking urgent inspection of its records. “Only 10 per cent of these NGOs are using funds for genuine reasons. Even then, newer ones are springing up every day to claim easy funds under the racecourse nidhi. Somewhere, the government must put a cap on this industry or approve requests passed by the common consensus of the local panchayat.
Arbitrary allotment of funds has spawned a racket in these parts,” said R S Dudhale, accounts officer, Public Trust Registration Office, Sangli.
All in the party
Nearly 540 kilometres away from Mumbai, at Khamgaon in Buldhana district, the Mahalaxmi racecourse fund is a big draw for all those eager to make a quick buck. The modus operandi is simple — local NCP leaders are willing to draft proposals for any potential social project with a distinct possibility of getting shortlisted for a grant. Thereafter, private auditors are willing to give easy affiliation for cheap money. Vijay Kashiram Chopde, taluka president of NCP’s youth wing, provides this service at a 10 per cent commission. If the proposal gets approved by the home department, he gets to keep 10 per cent of the approved amount. We found that in the first week of July, Chopde submitted, in a single day, a total of 13 proposals from the area to the government.
When we approached him by posing as a charity organisation from Mumbai apparently interested in setting up a perfunctory trust in Buldhana, he opened up easily. “Just get a trust registered. I’ll draft a proposal, and get fudged bills and bogus audit reports for you. The members for your body can be sourced from the NCP cadre,” he inadvertently revealed to this reporter.
Chopde’s trust availed of R30,000 last year in this manner. Of this, by his own candid confession, he blew away R10,000 in bursting crackers “when an NCP upadhyaksh won a local poll last year” and buying alcohol for party workers. Of the 13 trust proposals he had submitted, many were being run by NCP workers. According to him, the trusts shuffled common members among themselves. In some cases, while the husband remained as the president, in another the wife was made a dummy in-charge. “The trusts of our party workers Joshi, Wankhede, others were all created with this same modus operandi,” Chopde added.
This practice of shuffling members and creating dummy organisations has gained currency in these parts in the absence of any monitoring system. One such example is the approval given to Poonam Mahila Bahudeshiya Sansthan and Shri Sant Sena Maharaj Mahila Bahuudeshiya Trust. Last year, these two trusts — backed by NCP leader from Amravati, Vijay Bhaise — received grants. Here’s the catch. While one trust has Vandana Talkhande as president and Lata Dilip Ambalkar as secretary, the duo retained control of the second trust by fudging names and signatures.
Simply put, Lata is also the president in second trust, but was registered as Lata Pradeep Ambalkar. Vandana remained a member under the name Vandana Dadarao Talkhande. Both bodies sought R5,00,000 from the racecourse fund, and received a chunk of it in the same year. The fudging went unnoticed in government records.
Once the money is claimed, the party worker of the president organises a camp or ‘shibir’, inviting locals for free food.
He takes pictures of this event and submits them as proof for the next year’s proposal. “Last year, most of my trust’s money was used in party activities. How else do we keep the cadre enthused at a time when there is a Modi wave in the country? By distributing sweets, bursting crackers, and distributing money to party workers from this fund,” explained Shailesh Ghodke, head of NCP (OBC Cell), Paithan taluka. Godke has applied for grants again this year after getting R30,000 last year.
The audit reports of over 200 trusts, obtained by this paper under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, clearly show a deviation from standard accounting practices. Surplus funds are shown as ‘Anamat’ — better known as unsecured loans. None of the trust audits had provided the list of where and how these loans were sourced from, a mandatory requirement under the law.
“This ‘Anamat’ is nothing but surplus donation money that has remained in the account books because of non-utilisation — again brought into accounting books as unsecured loans,” said an auditor from Solapur, who claimed he was insisting on trusts claiming money under racecourse nidhi to furnish an ‘Anamat listing’.
When we contacted I A Shaikh, an auditor who has authorised scores of financial reports of trusts claiming money from racecourse funds, he said he would ‘take care of all the hurdles’. “I’ll provide you with all the audits, even if your books are not in order under section 33 and 34 of Bombay Public Trust Act,” he assured.
In the name of charity
>> Ajit Foundation Agalgaon, set up in the name of Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, received a grant of R50,000 last year from the racecourse fund. This year, too, its president M Nimbalkar has applied for a grant of R3,50,000. All seven trust members are active NCP workers and their basic activity is to promote the work of Pawar Junior. “We all take pride in his dashing politics and during elections, even turn the trust office into an election war room just for Ajit Dada,” says Nimbalkar whose trusts also distribute letters to villagers urging them to pledge support to Ajit Pawar during elections
>> Janiv Lok Vikas Sansthan, Parbhani, obtained money under the racecourse funds last year, but its president, Ashok Upande, spent a chunk of it on functions promoting policies of Sharad Pawar and Supriya Sule. He is an active supporter of NCP.
>> NCP’s Satish Chavan nominated Samrat Ashok Gramin Magasvargiya Sansthan for R10,00,000. The NGO submitted its proposal on August 14, 2013. A dummy proposal with different members but the same scheme is submitted on August 15.
>> Saibaba Alpsankhyak Vikas Samaj from Jalgaon, which also received grants, published banners thanking Sharad Pawar
>> While some organisations do actually work for the cause they espouse, being in the NCP is a huge advantage. NCP MLA Vikram Kale’s relative V S Kale runs Mahant Kailasgiri Baba Gymnasium at Aurangabad, which received a grant under the racecourse fund last year. “He is my brother and makes it easy to access this fund. Due to this, many members in the trust, too, are related to him,” said the cousin. NCP’s Aurangabad district leader, Khaisar Pathan, started the Ramabai Ambedkar Bahuudeshiya Sansthana few years ago and sought R4.34 lakh under the racecourse fund. He got a chunk from the Home Ministry.
Number of proposals endorsed by NCP leaders last year, of which many received grants
Total number of proposals submitted last year
When contacted, Home Minister R R Patil offered this explanation: “The RWITC has been given a licence according to Bombay Racecourse Licencing Act, 1912. As per the rules, out of all the horse races, 15 have to be charitable races. The betting tax, totalisator tax, entertainmment tax from these are collected as funds – of this, R1 crore is budgeted annually, and, according to government orders, is distributed as charity to charitable institutions.
Every year, the racecourse fund gets various applications from NGOs across all districts. Institutions which are registered with the Charity Commissioner have to submit three years’ accounts, their aim and rules, and the purpose they wish to use the funds for, to the Home Ministry. The Ministry then verifies the documents and upon confirming their veracity, approves funds. Commonly, applications come in for health camps, computers and books for schools, public libraries, self-help groups for women, the disabled, cancer patients, etc.
Many a time, these institutions give references through elected representatives to the Home Ministry; sometimes, social workers also recommend them, according to which the funds are disbursed.
It is difficult to give donations to all such trusts at once in a single year. Hence, the money is given in two or three phases, to ensure that everyone gets donations. Applications come in from various districts and, hence, claiming that only Satara, Sangli or any other particular district benefitted would be wrong.
These organisations have to submit a utilisation certificate as proof that they used the money they received for the purpose they cited. We don’t really monitor if the money has been spent on the cause espoused. We will have to look into the possibility of introducing such a system. It is compulsory to use the donations for the cause they were procured for, and if they were used for political or personal use, an enquiry will be conducted on the same.”